This week has been one for talking about what makes our houses home. I’ve loved nosying at other people’s houses on Jelly’s blog here and here (Jelly is a real life friend but I’ve not visited her since she moved house). I had to laugh when thinking dear god, where the hell did she get that? only to see it had been a present from me. (And there I was largely hiding my love of kitsch from the world!). I found A Dirty Shade of Green through Jelly and enjoyed being equally voyeuristic about her house.  

I wrote recently about my house not smelling like home and in many ways it’s not quite home yet. There are so many plans in the making but I realised there were still plenty of things that make it personal to us so once I finish writing this I’ll run around with my camera and blog my response.   But for now I need to admit that my lovely house is in fact a well disguised bridge for I am a troll. I don’t mean this in the ugly sense although if I may briefly deviate...   

~ Wavy lines ~   

A couple are laying naked in bed having a sleepy conversation as they drift off. The man spoons up to the woman and circles an arm about her waist.   

Man: You’ve changed shape.   

Woman: (Pleased he’s noticed as she’s lost 3 inches from her waist since New Year) In what way?   

Man: Well... you’re less fat.   

He freezes, realising how utterly retarded a thing that was to say. He’s torn between maintain his close embrace and removing his genitals from their exposed location.   

~ Wavy lines ~   

... Anyway, assuming the slip wasn’t a revelation about my actual physical hideousness and merely the fiancé being his usual charming self (I’ve stopped asking him to tell me what a film is about because he is a true anti salesman and puts me off everything he describes*) I’m a troll on the basis of odious personality.   

“Grr, who’s that stepping over my bridge?”   

“Um, I live here. I’m your fiancé.”  

“Oh yeah. Hi honey, how was your day?”   

I’ve been ill but really there’s little excuse. I have a nice home with a lovely man, great stepkids and live in what has to be one of the loveliest places in the world. This made the news this week. How cute is that? I’ve become a bit obsessed with the This is Gloucestershire website of late given the high percentage of fluffy news. It makes me feel ever so cosseted. Of course, one has to bear in mind Simon Pegg’s excellent documentary on life in the West Country and the frightening undercurrent of the greater good but frankly after living in the North East I’ll take that risk. Anyway, we have hanging baskets so I’m sure we are on the acceptable list for now.  

I think I’m far too guilty of box ticking. Because I have the things I think I should want I think I have no justification for being grumpy or unhappy. Daft but hard to escape nevertheless.   I’m pretty motivated I suppose and by defining a series of goals I promptly achieve them and tend to be left with either a vague dissatisfaction or utter panic. Today consisted of three key tasks.   

1)    An interview for David Bailey’s afternoon show on BBC Radio Gloucestershire for this weekend’s Fire and Wood Festival. David is a lovely bloke but I still get nervous about doing radio. I had my notes about me but spent the run up to his call feeling a bit sick. No feelings of positivity about doing my job well, just fear that I’d mess it up. 

2)    My first commissioned piece of writing. There was a tight deadline so the work itself was focused and very enjoyable. Since submitting it however I’ve been stressing over it non-stop. The fiancé barely got the kids in bed before I was asking him to read over it to check that it wasn’t utterly retarded. The nature of the work was close to what I do at the Dean Heritage Centre, something I have done for nearly 18 months. In short, I was doing the job I get paid to do on salary but as a freelancer. I am absurd. 

3)    Creating a fascinator. I’m making it for the Bath and West show where I’ll be a fashion scout at Ladies Day. I commissioned an artist to help produce it with a view to creating a range of headwear. It didn’t go as fast or as perfectly as I’d have liked so I freaked out.   

The clue is in the first task. Today was my day off but I was working for my employer. I believe this is called being a workaholic but that seems silly. It was important and needed doing. It’s not as though I was bringing admin work home with me (that was um... last week). Is being a workaholic indicative of being a perfectionist (tasks two and three)? I think so.   

In theory I had a nice day. I got to be creative both in writing and by making some art. I’ll even get paid for some of it.** It makes me think of the scene in Pretty Woman where Stuckey says to Richard “We worked for a year on this deal. It's what you said you wanted. I'm handing it to you. Morse's jugular is exposed. It's time for the kill. Let's finish this” as Edward ponders the fact that his business doesn’t physically make anything.

While the credits roll at Edwards realisation that blah blah the movie ends but I reckon Edward and Vivien wouldn’t have lasted more than a couple of years. Edward would have thrown himself into his new venture and ultimately found himself in the same position a few years down the line.

Maybe that’s just the troll speaking. I am terribly grumpy after all.   


* For the record porn clips are rarely convincing either. 

** Well, assuming my client pays me!

A few things that make our house our home

I'd love to see some of your homes. I have a spare family ticket to the Bath and West show worth £40 (they gave it to me for being a fashion scout but I'd already bought a ticket) and will give it to a randomly selected person* who sends me a picture that they're willing for me to put up here. Even if you don't want the ticket, please consider sending me a photo as I'm really nosy! Email pics to kathrynalexaashcroft@gmail.com by 5pm on Monday for a chance to win (and to give me time to post them to you!).

* Not true. I'm going on Friday and am totally open to bribes. I like Pimms and scones. 
 
 
A couple of years ago when I was living in Malaysia, I would spend hours on messenger talking to my friends Trev and Jan. The three of us were friends largely, I think, because we were all trying to figure out what we were going to do with our lives. We all met online. I met Trev on a forum; he met Jan through Facebook and introduced the two of us. We circled a great many topics and had some fiery debates.

Trev once accused me of utter absurdity for claiming great sex was my priority for any future relationship and I would roll my eyes so hard at Jan that I’d dislodge my contact lenses for her loyalty to her tiger parents. Of course we deliberately wound each other up, or at least Trev and I would wind each other and Jan up.   

It was a friendship we have moved on from. When Trev and I met up, it concreted the friendship and while it has been a couple of years since we saw each other he has promised to dance at my wedding. We still talk but in a different way, today its far more based on the idea that we’ve figured out what we want and now we’re trying to make it happen. Maybe because I never met Jan, that friendship was more going to be more ephemeral. Perhaps because Trev and I took literal as well as physical journeys it was harder to reconcile Jan’s coming of age with our own. As a triad we drifted apart. 

At any rate, what stands out from those conversations most was a question posed by Jan as to what more than anything motivated us. She ultimately chose money and seemed irritated at Trev’s motivation for travel and pleasure. Trev argued that things such as money, fame and success were pursued out of a belief that they would bring happiness. I agreed and said I was motivated by happiness itself, the little things. I’m currently living my live out of a desire for small pleasures; baking bread, keeping chickens, candles at dinner and good wine (hmm, actually it seems I’m motivated by food; I certainly subscribe to Jay Rayner’s opinion on dinner parties).

I remember my father offering up a similar question when I was a child. There were three goals he said; money, fame and success and if I was only able to have two, which would I choose? I chose money and fame, which he informed me was incorrect. (Daddy wasn’t much of a philosopher!) Of course now I see the question as flawed. It presumes there being a path through life that followed will make us happy.   

Perhaps being driven made my father happy but given my similarities to him, I suspect that being driven can be a tool for distraction. It’s the successful person’s procrastination for contemplating the meaning of life. I suspect my father would (given the chance) give the kind of retort that Jan might; that not being driven is procrastination for getting on with life and being a bum.   

Trev was certainly that for a while but from where I’m sitting he seems to have found peace with the world. He doesn’t have all the answers (or if he does, he’s holding back on me) but he accepts that. Likewise, I’m not completely certain in the direction my life is going in but I’ve largely come to terms with that being ok. Possibly, Jan’s peace lies in that corner office with a sea view she’s heading towards. Given I’ll never reach the career milestones Jan is aiming for it’s not really for me to say that happiness isn’t waiting there for her but I’m sure I wouldn’t find it there.   

The last time I spoke to Trev we talked about cherry trees and adventures. Each of us feels torn between the two opposing paths they represent to us. I want this family I’m building, he wants an allotment. Both of us love the open road. An image pops into my mind as I write this. Not of an open road at all but the bamboo train in Battambang, Cambodia. A thin track weaving through jungly fields with the sun setting about us; we were vaguely aiming towards Phnom Penh but Cambodia was 100% journey with destination irrelevant.   

I don’t think there is reconciliation; one will always come at the cost to the other. I want my family more than the open road but I’m still leaving them for an adventure in Turkey in September (the fiancé is wonderfully supportive). It will go a long way to appeasing my desire to leave them all for good. I’ve made my peace with that. I’m not terrible for wanting the opposite to what I have, I think I’m healthy for admitting to it and looking for a degree of compromise that will provide the happiest meeting in the middle point for me.   

I don’t think Trev, Jan and I have much in the way of answers but I feel as though we’ve each picked a direction to head in for now.   

Or at least, I’ve picked mine but that is only a third of the story...
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Trev and I in Battambang (2008)
Oh and in case you’re wondering, great sex being a priority in my next relationship was really, I came to realise, a desire for the person I’d spend the most time with to share my views on what matters. We are all animals and have the same needs, I was looking for someone who agreed on the important things; shelter (characterful not new built), sleep (hard mattress not soft), food (see here) and sex (well, I’ll keep that to myself).
 
 
The fiancé and I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Barcelona. I don’t think I have ever needed a holiday more and we spend quite a ridiculous amount of time sleeping. But beyond that we walked for miles soaking up the amazing architecture and had some wonderful meals. I can’t recommend the place enough.   

I returned to see that Karen Strunks who I meme’d a couple of weeks ago had put her answers in a video. What amused me most about her video was that she said she was her own favourite smell and that she smells lovely!* But I think Karen has hit on something significant. 

You see, when we got home I didn’t get that wash of familiarity that makes homecoming so comforting. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first; after all I was back among my things and from the day we first viewed the house it had felt like our home. Our bedroom gave it away. The room smelt a bit musty and stale, like the houses of smokers. It had only had three weeks of the fiancé’s Rightguard and my Chanel No.5 being sprayed, only three weeks of Arial and Comfort scented bedding and the tea he brings me each morning, and the make-up I spill all over my dressing table. The dining room hasn’t had quite enough vanilla candles burned and not enough meals have been cooked in the kitchen. 

There was the familiar smell of bleach of course as whenever I go away, each drain receives a few drops. And it wasn’t as though it smelt like someone else’s house, it just didn’t quite smell like us yet. Still, I think the carpets need a good clean and since we’re planning on recarpeting the entire house this year I wasn’t about to hire a carpet cleaner. So I needed a cleaning product.   

Did they even make Shake ‘n’ Vac anymore?   

I vaguely remembered buying it when I got my first place after moving out of university halls. My flat was, in a word, rank. When my mum got her first flatshare my grandparents referred to it as rising damp and my Nana refused to take off her coat. My mum had teased her about this story for years but I think the thing that most made her appreciate how much we turn into our mothers was when I looked at her accusingly during her first visit and said she had better take her coat off, sit on the sofa and drink the tea I was going to make her.  

It was a dive but it was my dive and I was excited about having my own place (shared of course with a girlfriend). Still, I recognised that something needed to be done and three tubes of Shake ‘n’ Vac later, the place smelt much better. If a product made popular in the 80s still had a place a decade ago, perhaps it was still on the market?

The fiancé returned triumphant and, in a worrying demonstration of how effective advertising can be, sang and danced much like the lady above. Actually, advert aside the product name needs recognising as impressive. I hadn’t made a purchase for years and yet as soon as I thought smelly carpet, my memory threw up the required product. It’s naff, it’s cheesy but the purchase was made.   


Thinking about it, familiarity hugely effects how I make decisions. While I like trying new things that doesn’t extend to the brands that touch me on a day to day level. I’ll probably stay with Nikon as my camera brand of choice as I own two lenses but could probably be swayed. My washing up liquid (Green Fairy - I got rather irritable when the fiancé bought green chuffing apple) however is fixed. I like Knickerbox bras and Vimto. I’m convinced the wine I get from Virgin Wine is better than stuff I could pick myself and am convinced I can feel the difference if I can’t get hold of Lil-lets and have to use Tampax (TMI much? Sorry but I feel REALLY passionately about tampons!)   

I went from locating my fantasy second home in Nice to contemplating Barcelona on the basis of a single cup of coffee in a charming square but feel irritated when the fiancé buys own brand bodywash instead of Original Source (you know, in case I fancy nicking some). I’m heading into my second marriage but only use Nice ‘n Easy to dye my hair.   

Perhaps small scale familiarity helps us avoid largely unimportant decisions. Made once we are then freed to think about the bigger issues such as who to marry and where to live (or buy fantasy second homes). It would be agonising if every supermarket trip involved weighing up the multitude of options. It’s fortunate that when we start living with someone we tend to be quite enamoured as really, so many conversations are tedious.   

Me: Why do you drink proper Vimto? 

Him: I like it!  

Me: But it’s full of sugar. It’ll rot your teeth!**   

Him: The diet stuff tastes crap.  

*Ominous silence*   

Me: I guess we’ll buy both kinds.   

You do it gradually of course as you find the compromises. But imagine if every time we placed an online order for food we had to discuss things?   

Well... um, we wouldn’t get around to watching Russell Howard’s Good News. 

But that in itself reflects the kind of shortcuts we take into our lives. When the fiancé asks me what I want to watch on TV (I should say now that we watch very little and everything is from the PVR so we watch our favourites when we feel like it) he knows I won’t say Strictly Come X-Factor on Ice but instead choose between a comedy/drama (Green Wing or Mad Men), News (Mock the Week type stuff) or cartoons. Oh yes, don’t think because we shun reality TV that we are sophisticated. We eat home cooked meals at the table (often with candles) then retire to the sofa to watch the toilet humour of Family Guy.   

That’s what the crux of home is to me. The little rituals and routines that are our own and a shorthand that only those within the home truly understand; when I say the children need more kicking, I mean they’re indulging in the kind tantrum that is best cured by me running after them growling until they’re laughing so hard they can’t remember what they were stropping over. I want to stress: I don’t actually kick the children!   

The noise of home plays a big part just like the stuff but that first hit? That’s smell. So tomorrow I shall be dancing around, shaking and vaccing and then probably baking something for when my three blokes get home. Because this house needs some work to get it smelling right (I shall try and refrain from spraying Chanel No.5 on the living room curtains). 

* This is of course a blatent lie. What I liked most is that it felt like Karen addressed it to me. You know, like personalised TV! This was of course terribly exciting.   

** Aged 27 and already parroting my mother.

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Graffiti on cactus at Park Guell

I haven't got around to it yet but I'll be adding some of my Barcelona pictures to my Flickr sets soon and I'm also building albums in the Words and Pictures section of this site as I finally start pulling my travel writing and photography together.
 
 
And they all lived happily ever after?   

Because that’s where the story ends with Disney but really last weekend was about new beginnings. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge face starting married life under the spotlight regardless of the fact they’re excusing themselves from official duties for a couple of years. I hope they make it because I like them. I like despite stepping into the role of breeding stock for an heir to the throne, Kate got married in a garden. I like that William kissed her twice and that the second time they both blushed the littlest bit. And I love that they attached balloons and a Just Wed number plate to Charles’ Aston Martin (which runs on bioethanol fuel distilled from wine, a detail I love!). I think they’re “furreals” as Jelly says.   

I was born less than three months after my future King and have spent my life seeing my milestones in the media. From university applications to career choices, it has been strange to see my personal decisions speculated upon. It has made me feel lucky to be out of the spotlight, for beyond my immediate family nobody really cared what I did. I don’t imagine even the fiancé is terribly bothered which university I went to. And while it won’t be the first time for me, I think part of my interest in the Royal Wedding lay in the fact that 2011 will be a wedding year for me also; as always, a few months behind William. It was a beautiful wedding but I’m very glad that rather than marrying a prince, I’m marrying a nice man whose importance and fascination is largely missed by people. I feel very lucky that sharing him means having his kids in my life and not the paparazzi.  

But if not the big white dress and the crowds cheering the royal couple then surely the bad guy dying is clear cut? After all, nothing is quite so finite as death. Except perhaps when you’re creating martyrs and when the guy in question is only a mere cog in a machine and well, when a nation is stupid enough to celebrate a death in such a way than even I feel a certain sense that they need cutting down to size. Given that I’m a pretty peaceful type unaffiliated to any brand of sky pixie or extreme political standpoint (today Torygirl voted YES), that has to say something about how those that do must be feeling!  

So really it hasn’t been very Disney. Our couple disappeared in order to have some time to themselves and the world waits for retaliation on our dead terrorist. We’re merely onto a new chapter. Such is life.  

At least it is for my life. I live in distinct chapters and have never really ambled along. I left home at 19 and am at my 12th address (although my plan is to live here for at least a decade and with a view to all of my decades). It’s not so much that I move as that I start again. I started out in the Northeast of England, headed to the Far East and am now in the Southwest of England. I was an academic then I worked in the museum industry and now with my feet all itchy, I’m looking to what’s next.  

I like the idea of synthesis. Take an idea, take an opposing idea then move forward with something new borne from the balance between the two. At any rate it can console me when I’m wondering whether I’m actually rather aimless instead of passionate and uncompromising. Feckless is another word I’d like to avoid but it seems I’m determined on casting myself in a nasty light. As though I need to defend my actions. 

Seriously, do I think I’m a princess? Nobody cares! I can write whatever I like in my book. More than that, I set out to create a life that would allow me to twirly twirl* my way through life. I all but got the fiancé to sign a contract saying I was allowed to go places and have experiences independent of him. So what was holding me back? The notion that a nine to five would validate me in some way? 

So yet again I’m working my notice and sat on the precipice of a new beginning. Stupid? Yeah maybe but life is too bloody short not to be. As Natasha says, ‘We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes but I can’t live that way.’
 

So what’s the plan?  

In March I submitted my PhD thesis and what would come next has been something I’ve been fighting. Because I knew that if I gave in it would become all consuming and I’d never get my doctorate. What comes next is what I suppose would be my post doc if I hadn’t turned my back on academia. As Alain de Botton allegedly said, I might have been an academic in a university, if the university system had been different. It is the system and not myself that set me on a different path.

The next path starts with books (oh there’s a plan for income but that’s not something I want to talk about here) and a trip. I’m going to Istanbul to write about nihilism. Ooh happy shiver, I’ll say it again! I’m going to Istanbul to write about nihilism.  

Some of this month’s salary bought the flights and I’m planning to stay in an £8/night hostel jobby when I head out in September. I’ve lived on tiny money before and I find it pushes me to widen my horizons. I’ve four months to do my background reading (and keep earning) but my next chapter is out there waiting to be written!   I tell you, it beats a Disney story hands down!  
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My first few books to get me started

* I came across The Goddess Experience in TK Maxx by chance and Gisèle Scanlon is my new favourite person whose idioms I am eager to adopt; cakey bakey especially. See linky to her fabulous site.